Dear Ms. Kasper:
Rick Nelson, our local food writer for the Star Tribune, wrote a lovely article about YOU in the Taste section, October 27, 2016. An article titled “The Soup You’ll Make All Winter” certainly captures attention.
Let me share with you my personal version of Dante’s Inferno:
First Circle of Hell: Prepare appetizers for a crowd of 150, focussing, naturally, on locally sourced ingredients. It’s Minnesota. In February. Think squash.
Second Circle of Hell: Dip 9000 strawberries in four types of chocolate. Artfully angle the chocolate lines to best effect. Strizzle complementary colors across the dipped berries.
Third Circle of Hell: Revamp the school lunch program for the Saint Paul Schools, accommodating nut allergies, gluten intolerance, picky eaters, the full gamut of dairy options, and -
You get the picture. I don’t love cooking.
Rick Nelson does, or at least he loves eating. He recorded a meet-n-greet session with you at Cooks of Crocus Hill where you prepared harira, a traditional Moroccan soup, live, in-studio.
(Fourth Circle of Hell: Host a live cooking event. Be perky and approachable. And produce a delicious end-product.)
I decided to bite the baguette and make the soup. I thought you should know that I experienced a bit of a language barrier in attempting to interpret your comments and the recipe itself.
1) You use a number of interesting adjectives such as “good-quality-tasting” extra-virgin olive oil, “freshly grated” orange zest, and “freshly ground” black pepper. I’m guessing my standards are slightly different from yours.
2) The verbs are also intriguing. Regarding the aforementioned black pepper, you claim “that pepper just sings.” I heard no singing, though “O Mio Babbino Caro” would’ve been a lovely choice. You say “bring to a gentle bubble.” With reference to cooking verbs, I understand “boil” and “simmer” and that is all. I cranked up the knob on our central burner, the one that sets off the smoke alarms due to heat, and hoped for the best.
3) You do not recommend attempting this soup in a slow cooker, claiming that the “sauté, that sizzle, is activating those flavors.” Another incomprehensible cooking verb – sizzle? Next time around, I will be attempting this soup in a slow cooker. I thought you should know.
4) I ROFL’d (my sources inform me that this involves a fit of hilarity and a horizontal surface) over the paragraph about buying whole spices and grinding them in a coffee grinder that I could purchase at a garage sale.
(Fifth Circle of Hell: Grind spices on-demand for Wolfgang Puck, Emeril Lagasse, Anthony Bourdain, and Gordon Ramsay.)
5) To continue the spice theme, I was completely baffled by your admonition: “don’t put raw spices into things, because they’re dead. You always want to warm up your spices, open them up, get them alive.” In my mind, “open them up” is something you do when laparoscopic surgery runs amok, as in, “Crap. I nicked the aorta. Looks like we’re gonna hafta open her up.”
6) In the ingredient list, you say “1 (28-oz.) can whole tomatoes and their liquid, puréed (do not use tomato purée).” Part Two of the ROFLing.
7) On the accompaniments list (again – language issues – to me accompaniment involves a piano), you suggest “3 tbsp. ground hot chile (Aleppo if possible).” I, like Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, ask “What is Aleppo?”
8) “Season to taste with salt and pepper.” This is singularly unhelpful. I grew up with a mother who jumped on the Jane Brody Bandwagon in the early days. Carbs=good. Fat=bad. Salt was the S-word in our house, little white grains of evil. Hence, I was introduced to the allure of salt rather late in life. A general ballpark, like “start with one tablespoon,” would be much appreciated.
9) I found the ROI (return on investment) somewhat lacking. I spent an hour chopping, an hour procuring ingredients, and another hour cooking. With that time commitment, the result needed to rock my world. I thought it was pretty good, so I’ll be making it in a slow cooker next time. Sorry.
10) The Big E tasted it and proclaimed, “This isn’t really my kind of meal. My kind of meal is a big steak and deep-fried french fries,” not to be confused with regular, non-redundant french fries.
11) I’ll pick my last bone with Rick Nelson, who claims in the online version of the article that the recipe is both “easy” and “a total keeper.” Rick, in our house, “keeper” refers to fish. And for me a recipe is, by definition, never easy.
So, thanks for the recipe. I’ll be sure to let you know how things work out with my Crock-Pot.